Life. One day at a time.

Pause. Rethink. Rebuild.

Well, it seems I’ve been jabbed, kicked, and beaten from every direction the past several months. While I was down, my credit card was stolen and my host was up for renewal. Because I had been so behind, the account was suspended and my blog’s database was deleted. (Yep, I also hadn’t taken an offline backup for a long while.)

I managed to restore my sites and most of my blog posts using The Wayback Machine. I’ve lost the draft posts that were waiting to be polished and published though. I also lost the most recent one titled “The True Hobo: An Independent Consultant”. That’s one I’d really like back. If anyone manages to find a cached copy of that somewhere, please send it to jason@magnara.ca.

As I was recovering all my posts today, I realized that there weren’t many from 2015. It has been a crazy, merciless roller coaster ride this year. Fortunately, I have been humbled and have learned a lot – with fascinating new posts waiting to be written.

Inspiration from Brunelleschi’s Dome

In 1296, Florence started building a church that included designs for a massive never-been-done-before dome. They actually started the church not knowing how to build the dome structure. It was either going to be an impressive achievement or a very embarrassing mistake.

For decades, people tried to design a solution for building the dome structure but all of them were either too risky, too expensive, or not feasible. In 1418, architects flocked from around the world in response to a competition. Many very different solutions were presented but the winning design turned out to be from a goldsmith with no architect experience whatsoever. LESSON: Innovative solutions can come from unlikely places!

While reading about his success, I’ve identified some attributes that inspire me:

  • Dedication. It took very many years to complete the project which seemed impossible.
  • Courage. If his design didn’t work, the city’s reputation would suffer and he would face a lifetime of troubles.
  • Persistence. Overseers, competitors, and critics called him a “miserable and imbecile beast” and even put him in jail.
  • Leverage. Without visiting Rome and leveraging from their designs, he might not have come up with his own.
  • Teamwork. A lot of man hours went into the construction which required careful coordination and a common goal.
  • Trust. The city and the workers had to trust his innovative design; the workers literally had to trust him with their lives.
  • Precision. He oversaw the production of even the bricks and had to constantly test the lines to ensure the curves would meet at the top.
  • Patience. A lot of challenges and distractions arose during development but this did not deter the construction.
  • Vision. Without a detailed vision, Brunelleschi would not have been able to communicate it, defend it, and measure success.
  • Creativity. His design was radical and out-of-the-box – exactly where brilliant ideas tend to come from.

Reading about his courage and persistence, especially, inspires me to consider and dream about what it would be like to take on such a large and high-profile project. What an incredible opportunity to build something beautiful. And what great joy there can be in hard work. Sure, it will mean having to receive harsh words of criticism, but that’s just part of the refining process.

An Important Performance Measurement For The Workplace

According to the research in a book I’m reading called Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, an unlikely school in Naperville Illinois is one of the fittest AND most academically advanced schools in North America. They attribute their academic success to the introduction of what they called “zero hour” – a physical fitness program that every student needs to do every morning. The way it works is that students do whatever activity they enjoy that gets their heart rate above 80-90% of their maximum heart rate.

A case study in the book speaks specifically of a little girl named Michelle who kept coming in last on the track and was the inspiration behind the idea of Zero Hour. Being the slowest in the class, the coach would have normally scolded Michelle – berating and embarrassing her in front of her peers. But when the coach examined her heart rate, he saw that it was off the chart – impressive even for a trained athlete! So he gave her an A+ because, even though she was the slowest in the class, her heart rate indicated that she had actually outperformed all her peers.

When I apply this to the work environment, I wonder if the performance measurement is essentially the same: heart rate. It would be incredibly destructive to a person’s heart (the desire to try) if they are berated and embarrassed in front of their colleagues. Just as heart rate is more difficult to measure than speed and endurance, a person’s desire to serve in a workplace is more difficult to measure than their output. And it’s often misunderstood.

For a team to really thrive and be sustainable, everyone’s DESIRE needs to be positive and healthy – and that simply won’t happen by applying negative force. Everyone has different backgrounds and experience and, whether it is done consciously or not, comparisons and competition is likely to destroy cohesion and teamwork and create more stress on managers.

Similarly, monitoring our own heart rate and trying to keep it up despite stress and pressure is very challenging. But it is ultimately very rewarding as we grow stronger, wiser, and more equipped for bigger challenges. Affirmation is rare in many environments so holding on to the little that does occur is strengthening and motivating.

Free Personal Trainer and Gym Membership

Because many people join gyms at this time of year and waste money when bailing mid-February, I decided to share the workout routine that I made about a year ago that has paid incredibly huge dividends. It’s probably one of the best investments I have EVER made – next only to great relationships that started over a cup of coffee or chance encounter.

The combination that works well for me were the following 3 apps. All of them are free but the Pro version for Sworkit is well worth the $1.50.

  • Sworkit Pro– I typically do two 10-minute workouts focusing on a different area. Recently, I’ve been focusing on upper body and core strength. What I love about this is that the workouts don’t require the use of any weights (although I do use dumbells occasionally) and can be easily randomised. The Pro version is worth the cost because it says the name of the next exercise when it’s time to move to the next one. (I really dislike the talking in fitness videos and prefer to let my mind wander instead.)
  • Songza– Songza is great for discovering new music according to mood, activity, or genre. To help let my mind wander, I like to workout to dim lighting and new music that doesn’t usually have coherently English lyrics. So that might mean instrumental, latin, or dubstep music. I’ll also sometimes listen to raggae or even smooth jazz to help relax.
  • MyFitnessPal– I use this occasionally to track calories, sugar intake, protein, and carbs. I don’t use it all the time because it’s too much maintenance. I would only use it for two weeks at a time to help monitor my eating habits and form new ones. What’s really nice is that Sworkit will automatically send the calories burned into the MyFitnessPal log so that the daily calorie records are more complete.

The other important feature to my workouts is the whiteboard system. I draw 7 columns on the silver whiteboard in my kitchen and mark the days when I do a 10-minute workout. Each workout is worth 5 points and I usually put two marks on 4 days per week. At the end of the week, I tally up the workouts and compute the points earned. Each point is worth $1 which I will pay myself at the end of a 15-week period. After the 15 weeks is complete, I might take a break before starting another 15 weeks.

This is just what has worked well for me. I really enjoy not having to get into the cold car and waste time driving to a gym. I can wear my crappy shorts and shirt and I can completely control my environment (lighting, music, and time). I can do the exercises wherever I am and it doesn’t cost me anything. I love it and have come to look forward to the relaxing time alone.

The One Resolution We Should All Make

Over the next few months, we will suddenly see more ads about flat bellies, dropping pounds, eating healthy, and diet pills. Obviously, marketers know that people start trying to make good on their new year’s resolutions to lose weight.

But I wonder what would happen if everyone made a resolution to be more responsible? Of course, we never think of ourselves as being irresponsible – but the reality is that all of us are to some degree. And there is always room to improve.

I recently had the honour of listening to Christopher Avery speak at the Gatineau-Ottawa Agile Tour about the Responsibility Process. The content in this blog post comes from the 25+ years that he spent studying and teaching leadership and personal responsibility.

When we start moving towards a goal (which is often the case after people pause and reflect on the new year), momentum is created. But when a force hits an obstacle, there is a sudden change in momentum and that generates energy. As humans, this energy causes feelings of stress, anxiety, angst, etc. This is when it’s most important to release the energy responsibly in order to take obstacles in stride.

Here are ways that we commonly release the energy irresponsibly:

  1. The first reaction is tolay blame. We naturally prefer to blame someone else for the problem that is affecting our momentum. However, with this mindset the only way to fix our problem is to change someone else. Good luck!
  2. The second reaction is tojustify the problem. We often use words like “that’s just the way it is around here”. The problem is environment so to fix our problem, we need to change the world. Again, good luck!
  3. The third reaction isshame. This is when we believe that we only have ourselves to blame. When someone has this mindset, they might use words like “I’m such an idiot” or “I can’t believe I was so stupid.” With this mindset changing our self seems impossible.
  4. The fourth reaction isobligation. When we feel obligated, we feel trapped and must do something we don’t want to. This can be a negative thing in a team because it breeds resentment which is toxic and not supportive.
  5. Another reaction is toquit. Quitting can take the form of venting, exiting, or simply being actively disengaged (present but not engaged).
  6. And still another reaction isdenial. This is when we simply deny that a problem exists. We shrug it off and look the other way and hope it just goes away.

With any of the above reactions to the obstacle, no growth occurs. And yet these are very common reactions.

The reaction we want to aim for is the responsible reaction. This is where we don’t do any of the above 6 reactions. No blaming, no justification, no shame, no obligation, no quitting, and no denial. We just solve the problem because we want to. It typically requires a loop of intention, awareness, and confrontation until the problem is solved. It’s something we can all choose but is not always an easy choice.

So the one resolution I think we should all make is the one to approach our problems more responsibly. This is how we grow.

Lightweight But Robust ETL Framework

A client was in need of an ETL framework that was flexible, simple, fault tolerant, configurable, and had built-in logging and auditing capabilities. The “simple” attribute made it difficult to find a suitable framework for my client but after evaluating several good frameworks, I finally settled on this one by Chris Price.

I really appreciate that it allows for the modular package design that Stéphane Fréchette advocates without much repetition to satisfy the framework. Below is a presentation about the framework that I encourage others in my field to review – especially if building one from scratch or hiring someone who might build one from scratch.

There is a short video about this presentation and a full video hosted on Pragmatic Works.

Data Integrity is Human Integrity

As I was reading How Will You Measure Your Life by Chris Christensen, it occurred to me with greater clarity that data integrity is merely a reflection of human integrity. Nobody wants data to contain errors – and yet it happens all the time despite our best intentions.

In organizations with a lot of data, there are often many people involved in data integrity: from the users who provide information to the people who interpret the reports – and everyone in between. But ask any person in the chain of data if they have integrity and they will always answer in the affirmative. However, the data is a reflection of the truth about our own integrity and it is rarely (never) flawless.

What I’ve observed is that data integrity issues are rarely (if ever) a result of a deliberate decision to enter incorrect data. Instead, it is often the result of rushed, tired, or stressed employees who are pressured to finish something quickly. This is true not only for the data entry clerks but for the people building the software, the business systems, and the reports as well.

Marginal thinking is a principle that is taught in most finance and economics courses. It tells us that in evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore costs that have already incurred and instead, base decisions on the new costs and new revenues that each alternative entails.

When faced with intense pressure to finish a project on time, the marginal cost of skipping a step just this once always seems negligible. We say to ourselves, “look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this – but in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The price of doing something wrong just this once usually appears alluringly low.

For example, Sam is a cook who was told that the Prime Minister has entered the restaurant and needs to finish his meal in one hour. Sam works swiftly to prepare the meal and, just before the meal is served, receives a phone call from one of the suppliers informing him that there’s a small chance the lettuce might have been on a truck that is suspected to have been contaminated by a poisonous substance.

As soon as Sam gets off the phone, the waitress hounds him about the status of the meal. To make matters more difficult, Sam recalls a time when his peers have taken a shortcut and received praise from the head chef for delivering on time versus another time when his peers have been hung up by an issue and received rash treatment for causing a delay.

In extenuating circumstances, most of us have been lulled into the “just this once” mindset. We justify making a small decision to break our own personal rules just one time. In the moment, it never feels like a major decision since the marginal costs are almost always low. But since life is just one unending stream of extenuating circumstances, each of those decisions aggregate and can turn us into someone we never aspired to be.

If the cook had crossed the line just that one time, he would’ve continued crossing it over and over again in various different ways. “It’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. The first step down the wrong path is taken with a small decision. You justify all the small decisions that lead up to the big one and then you get to the big one and it doesn’t seem so enormous anymore.” – Chris Christensen in How Will You Measure Your Life

Data integrity is in constant battle with time. What makes it difficult is that the cost of skipping a step often seems lower than the cost of missing a tight timeline. Nobody will appreciate the correctness of data and everyone will point fingers if a deliverable is late. By the time any mistakes are found, it might be many months (or years) later. Few stakeholders appreciate the time required to check and verify aggregations. It’s necessary but yields no immediately tangible value that is easily measured.

3 Types of Team Players

In Chris Hadfield’s book, An Astronaut’s Guide To Life On Earth, he identifies three types of team players. I’ve included them below and added my own thoughts into the mix.

The -1

The -1 people are the team players who distract the team from heading in the right direction. They are the team players who get in the way and hinder progress. Nobody sets out to be a -1 and nobody would willingly admit to being a -1. Also, people who are -1 team players often think of themselves as quite the opposite. This is why it is always important to listen to feedback and criticism from other team members objectively and with humility.

The 0

The 0 people are team members who neither add or subtract value in the team. They don’t bring the team closer to their goals and they don’t take the team away from their goals. Interestingly, Chris says that his main objective when entering a new team is be a 0. He gives himself time to learn what everyone’s strengths and weaknesses are on the team and understand the goals and challenges with absolute clarity and certainty before attempting to add value.

The +1

The +1 people are team members who add value to a team. They are the ones who help keep the team moving closer and closer towards their goals. The +1 people try to build up other team members because that is how the whole will succeed. They also know when to return back to being a 0 so that others can be better +1s. If a person stays a +1 for too long, they might slip into being a -1.

I thought it was an excellent book and Chris Hadfield’s story is certainly an inspiration.

Thank you Joy Smith

Joy Smith is the one behind the human trafficking laws that made this news story possible.

When you read it, ponder these questions:

  • How could all of this have been avoided in the first place?
  • Is it likely or unlikely that the Johns have uncontrollable appetites for sex?
  • Are the pimps trying to make a profit off the Johns’ appetite for sex?
  • How might criminalizing the demand for prostitutes affect the pimps’ business model?
  • What’s more important: protecting the Johns or protecting the girls?
  • What might’ve lead the Johns to having uncontrollable appetites for sex?
  • How likely is it that pornography was a factor in the men wanting prostitutes?

Thank you Joy Smith for your work in getting Canada to implement human trafficking laws. I support your more recent efforts to criminalize the Johns and block pornography (by default but with an option to opt-out) at the ISP level.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

A few months ago, Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, recommended 3 books that every CEO and business owner should read. I didn’t know which one to read first so I started investigating the authors who wrote them. I discovered that one of the authors, Clayton M. Christensen, wrote another book called How Will You Measure Your Life? The back cover read as follows:

In 2010 world-renowned innovation expert Clayton M. Christensen gave a powerful speech to the Harvard Business School’s graduating class. Drawing upon his business research, he offered a series of guidelines for finding meaning and happiness in life. He used examples from his own experiences to explain how high achievers can all too often fall into traps that lead to unhappiness.

The speech was memorable not only because it was deeply revealing but also because it came at a time of intense personal reflection: Christensen had just overcome the same type of cancer that had taken his father’s life. As Christensen struggled with the disease, the question “How do you measure your life?” became more urgent and poignant, and he began to share his insights more widely with family, friends, and students.

In this groundbreaking book, Christensen puts forth a series of questions: How can I be sure that I’ll find satisfaction in my career? How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness? How can I avoid compromising my integrity and stay out of jail? Using lessons from some of the world’s greatest businesses, he provides incredible insights into these challenging questions.

How Will You Measure Your Life? is full of inspiration and wisdom, and will help students, mid-career professionals, and parents alike forge their own paths to fulfillment.

I started reading the book using Audible.com’s incredible service but had to take a break. By the time I hit chapter 7, I was exhausted. The content is extremely good and, as the publisher stated, it is full of inspiration and wisdom. I had wanted to compile a really awesome post that summarizes key aspect of the book but I will share a few notes I had written down instead:

  • You can neglect the relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis it doesn’t seem like things are deteriorating.
  • Ambitious people may believe that their family is deeply important to them, they actually allocate fewer and fewer resources to the things they would SAY matter most. Few people set out to do this. The decisions often seem tactical. Just small decisions they think won’t have a large impact. But as they keep allocating resources in this way, they’re implementing a strategy different than what they intend.
  • How to check if you’re implementing the strategy you intend? Watch where your resources flow. If it doesn’t support the strategy that you’ve decided upon, you run the risk of a serious problem.
  • If the decisions you make about where to spend your blood sweat and tears are not consistent with the person you aspire to be, you’ll never become that person.
  • High achievers often spend too much time considering who they want to be at work and far too little time about who they want to be at home.
  • Getting something wrong doesn’t mean you failed, it just means you learned what doesn’t work.
  • When it seems like relationships at home are going well, you’ll be lulled into believing you can put these relationships onto the back burner. That’s a mistake. By the time serious issues arise in those relationships, it is often too late to repair them.

Towards the beginning of the book, the author discusses the difference between correlation and causation. People often attempt to replicate success by replicating the actions of other people; however, that is a lot like trying to fly by replicating a bird. As we can see from the early flight videos, it is far better to understand what causes a bird to fly than to simply attempt to replicate it. It wasn’t until we had a better understanding of fluid dynamics that our strategies improved.

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